By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB
There are an astonishing number of people who think that Medieval Latin has produced no great literary works. They couldn’t be more wrong! Medieval Latin has produced many true jewels of literature, including poetry, novels, and great legal documents like the Magna Carta.
Although certain modern languages (like English and French) were at this time coming into their own, Latin was still the lingua franca in the legal world. The text of the Magna Carta concerns itself mostly with law and civil liberties, which may at first seem a bit dry, but it really is perfect for intermediate and advanced Latin students.
What Is the Magna Carta?
The Magna Carta was a legal-political document signed by both feudal barons and King John at Runnymede near Windsor Castle in 1215, in which the king made a number of concessions in hopes of gaining the support of his subjects. In signing the document, the king was promising to govern England and deal with its people according to the customs of feudal law. It was an attempt by the English barons to put a bridle on kings who might otherwise become overly ambitious.
The Beginning of Civil Liberties: a Fragment of the Magna Carta
Now let’s take a look at a passage of the Magna Carta. In the following section, which appears early in the text, the Magna Carta gives a summary of its purpose just as legal texts do today. The grammar and vocabulary aren’t difficult, which is common in works from this period. Still, teachers should make sure students are familiar with all the various uses of the subjunctive and the ablative case.
In primis concessisse Deo et hac presenti carta nostra confirmasse, pro nobis et heredibus nostris in perpetuum quod Anglicana ecclesia libera sit, et habeat jura sua integra, et libertates suas illesas; et ita volumus observari; quod apparet ex eo quod libertatem electionum, que maxima et magis necessaria reputatur Ecclesie Anglicane, mera et spontanea voluntate, ante discordiam inter nos et barones nostros motam, concessimus et carta nostra [illa carta data 21ƒ novembris anno Domini 1214; confirmatio papae Innocentii tertii 30ƒ martii anno Domini 1215]
“First we have granted to God, and by this present charter have confirmed for us and our heirs in perpetuity, that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired. That we wish this so to be observed appears from the fact that of our own free will, before the outbreak of the present dispute between us and our barons, we granted and confirmed by charter the freedom of the Church’s elections – a right reckoned to be of the greatest necessity and importance to it – and caused this to be confirmed by Pope Innocent III.”
[Source: G.R.C. Davis, Magna Carta (London: British Museum, 1963), pp. 23–33.]
I urge more people to familiarize themselves with the Magna Carta as well as other similar medieval works. Once students give these texts a chance, I believe they’ll find that in their own way they can be no less exciting to read than other genres.
Latin Language Teacher Resources
Click on the links below to browse our Latin teaching downloads. These include Latin Visual Vocab Sheets, Latin Preposition Diagrams, Ablative and Dative Use Lists, and Declension and Conjugation Charts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.
Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.